Artist Statement on “I Am Not Politically Correct”
The origin story of the most un-PC spoken-word performance ever delivered in Malaysia.
Writing this, to begin with, is a surprise. The kind of surprise that took me from the back of the recesses of my mind, from deep down within — my heart perhaps — that I didn’t know it even exists until it pounded at my cortex with such urgency that I simply must release or else I would go mad.
And, boy — was I mad indeed. There was so much to be said that I could not stop writing, from pencil to paper (yes, handwritten) … 12 pages to be exact.
Back in February, due to some pressing news I had then uncovered, I wanted to write about “The Malaysian Dilemma” at first. But then, from the moment it got censored — in a way — by a certain American editor I used to work with, including a series of rather unfortunate (or fortunate; depending on how we look at it, right? :) events and confessions from others to me, I realise that this pervasive subject of [a]political correctness may be far more pertinent to the state of free speech and expression today.
In other words, how free are we all truly to be honest and forthright from our heart and soul today?
Now, because this was originally meant for a spoken-word performance, on stage on February 23rd, 2019, at InkQbate 2 in Kuala Lumpur (which I signed up to perform at, just the night before), I wrote — rewrote, rather — 12 messy A4-sized notes onto 16 papers — still with a 2B pencil and blank papers, and even then it didn’t quite cut it. (What you will see is also far different from the original, shorter script. But I am glad for the experiences which have transformed the presentation into what it is today.)
Cat Brogan, the hostess with the mostest, was kindly astute to not interrupt my flow of revision, as I scribbled and erased violently before the stage — when she finally introduced me on stage, long after I was scheduled to perform, she declared to the audience of 50 or more (I lost count) that I had finally given birth. It was hilarious and everyone laughed and cheered, and she, they, everyone present helped to calm my nerves. (Heck, even my Chinese neighbour showed up! With her whole family, no less!)
However, despite the calmness of my voice as I delivered my impassioned speech, the fingers which held these sacred sheets shook savagely, outraged at the vulnerability I felt so viscerally if only to speak my mind frankly and earnestly for once.
From the moment I conceived the title and proposed it to the handful of confidants I trusted, I kept praying to the Creator that I was doing the right thing.
That despite all my mental worries, I was speaking nothing but the truth, or as close to the truth as I humanly can.
After I delivered the last line and thanked the crowd for listening, the impact of what I just did, just said, for the last 10+ minutes or so, started to hit me — for it looked to me as if my intense delivery may have dampened the spirits somewhat; I was afraid that my message may have offended someone or many, for a couple of examples I cited in the name of free speech may not have put the LGBTQ crowd in the best light — yet there I was, presenting in what’s meant to be a safe space for fellow artists and the LGBTQIA, etc., crowd!
So, I wasn’t sure how to read the initial public reaction at first. But then, at the end of the night, a young woman — joined by her friend — patted my back, telling me this:
You were incredible! Thank you for saying all that!
I’m from Syria, and there’s a lot of political shit going on in my country, so what you said really resonates with me. Thank you, thank you.
During the whole time you were speaking I kept going, yes, yes, yes, that’s exactly on my mind [too] …… Yes, of course we were stunned — you gave us a lot to think about!
“So, are you going to put [your speech] up online?
I would love to read it later.”
And then a Chinese gay guy comes up to me to enthuse similarly…
… and then I thought, why not?
But then, being a historically marginalised and disenfranchised minority in this wonderfully “democratic” country called Malaysia has embedded a shadow of intellectual trauma (regarding the freedom of expression) which had haunted me even as I was entering my 32nd year of worldly existence. Yet, when I approached the performer after me — the wonderful national spoken-word champion Dhinesha Karthigesu — to ask him what he thought of my presentation, and if it was in any way too contentious for mass public consumption, this is what he said to me:
Step on toes, Jolin!
I’m going to post this comment on every post of yours:
STEP. ON. TOES.
Step on toes!
You can’t please everyone, anyway.
That’s when I realised that it’s no longer about me. It has never been about me in the first place. The fact that multiple others came up to me before they left just to tell me “that was great!” was enough to show me that with a present mind and open heart, the truth — our collective truth — can and will prevail no matter what.
Prejudice and bigotry be damned.
So, this transcript has now climbed almost two-week worth of mountains and censorship (direct/indirect) and revisions before it could even see the light of the Internet at large on Medium.com. Many thanks to many people behind-the-scenes, including Dave Custer of Extra Newsfeed, David Smooke of Hacker Noon, and especially my faithful artist-friend John Ling, who has kindly helped to share this news, this story — this piece of hard-fucking-work — with all of you sensible global citizens and friends of humanity.
I would like to conclude my grandmother-story here with the following quote, graciously offered to me in the very first public comment on the official script — by fellow writer Kitty Hannah Eden:
In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.
— George Orwell (maybe)
Thank you all for your kind attention.
Check out the story here:
I Am Not Politically Correct
Happy reading/watching; I would love to read your feedback there!
Best viewed on PC / Mac / not your phone ;)
Also known as Phoenix Li, Jolin Kwok is a Chinese Malaysian scribe by profession and a storyteller by vocation. Her storytelling style is experimental, egalitarian and viscerally evocative at best, and is not limited to poetry or prose or creative non-fiction. If you enjoy her thoughtful words, kindly “clap” up to 50 times — or more — on each of her Medium posts (so more people can read this), and consider buying this author a nice cup of coffee here (so she can keep writing creatively, freely).
Thank you for your support!